Dr Peter Oakley


  • Dr Peter Oakley leads the development of research activities across the School of Arts & Humanities, supporting the creation and management of the School’s staff research projects as well as undertaking his own research and supervising PhDs. Dr Oakley has an extensive knowledge of digital, industrial, traditional and bespoke making and manufacturing techniques and processes. His research interests include the introduction of innovative manufacturing technologies, sustainable and ethical material sourcing programmes, the social identity of luxury goods and the role of heritage in manufacturing.

  • Biography

  • Dr Oakley has worked in the creative industries as a member of product design teams and as a design and applied arts lecturer and course leader. He has also undertaken restoration projects, worked as a heritage and cultural tourism development specialist and been employed in the chemical industry as an analytical chemist. He joined the RCA as Research Leader for the School of Material in 2012.

    During 2005–6, Dr Oakley undertook fieldwork in the Southwest United States, where he studied the making of ‘Indian Jewellery’ and its display and retail at heritage locations across the region.

    Since 2008 he has studied the UK’s fine jewellery industry, including the introduction of new production, assaying and retailing technologies and the emergence and impact of sustainable and ethical gold sourcing initiatives. At the RCA his research on luxury goods has expanded to include the production and retailing of high-end watches, ceramics, woven textiles and leather accessories and footwear. This has included researching issues around sustainability specific to particular luxury materials and their supply chains and the transmission of specialist making skills.

    Dr Oakley has a long-standing research interest in the adoption of innovative production technologies by craft practitioners and industrial manufacturers. In 2013 and 2015 he convened workshops on digital crafting at the biennial Making Futures conferences that explored these issues, as well as presenting on the subject at Making Futures events held in China and Korea. His role in the AHRC-funded project Extending the Potential of the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface (2015–17) was to examine workforce responses to the opportunities presented by digital laser printing technology.

    Dr Oakley has also undertaken research on the role of manufacturing and mining sites as heritage and their impact on current perceptions and practice. This has included work on the historical development of specialist manufacturing clusters such as Hatton Garden and the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and the preservation and presentation of gold mines in Alaska and Sweden and tin mines in Cornwall.

    Dr Oakley is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) and a member of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA), the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC) and the Association of Research Managers and Assistants (ARMA). He is also a member of the AHRC’s Peer Review College, an Honorary Research Fellow at UCL and a member of the editorial board for the peer-reviewed academic journal Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption.

    Dr Oakley is currently the RCA’s Participant Contact for the ArcInTex European Training Network and an advisor to the research project: Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the development project: Empowerment of Women and Girls through Craft, Digital Technology and Entrepreneurship in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, funded by the British Council.

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  • External collaborations

  • External Affiliations

    • Honorary Research Associate at UCL Department of Anthropology

    Advisory Positions

    • Advisory Board member for the Geneva-based Sustainable Luxury Forum (2013-15)
    • Advisory Group member for the Crafts Council report: Innovation through Craft: Opportunities for Growth, commissioned from KPMG  (2015-16)
    • Editorial Advisory Board member for Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption (since 2015)
    • Member of the ResearchFish Research Focus Group (user interface development) (since 2016)
    • Project Advisor for the British Council funded project: Empowerment of Women and Girls through Craft, Digital Technology and Entrepreneurship in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan (2017-18)
    • Project Advisor for the AHRC funded project: Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics (ILPEC) (2017-18)

    Professional Memberships

    • Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institution (RAI)
    • Member of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)
    • Member of the Society for the History of Alchemy & Chemistry (SHAC)
    • Member of the Association of Research Managers & Assistants (ARMA)

    Research Group Memberships

    • Member of EASA’s Anthropology of Mining Special Interest Group
    • Member of LabUK’s Fashioning Material Britain
    • Associate member of the Winchester Luxury Research Group


    • Peer Review Panel member for Making Futures III, IV & V (2013.2015 and 2017)
    • Reviewer for Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption (since 2015)
    • Book proposal reviewer for Edinburgh University Press (2015)
    • Book proposal reviewer for Bloomsbury Press (2015 & 2016)
    • Reviewer for the Journal of Material Culture (since 2016)
    • AHRC Peer Review College member (since 2017)

    Academic Event Managment

    • Convener for the Digital Crafting Workshop held at Making Futures III (2013)
    • Convener for the Digital Crafting Workshop 2 held at Making Futures IV (2015)
    • Co-Convener (with Rod Bamford, C&G HoP) for the Crafting in Industry Workshop held at Making Futures V (2017)
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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Academic Journal Articles

    Oakley, Peter and Orange, Hilary (2018) ‘Representing Geevor: Linear progress vs the singular moment in the presentation of mining heritage’, Extractive Industries and Society (EXIS), special edition: Mining Temporalities – Approaching the Extractive Industries through Time and Temporality [forthcoming].

    Oakley, Peter (2017) ‘Is Gold Jewellery Money?’, Social Analysis, special edition: Money, Value and Equivalence [forthcoming].

    Oakley, Peter (2016) ‘Digital Crafting: Defining the Field in 2015’ Making Futures, vol.4.

    Oakley, Peter (2015) ‘Ticking Boxes: (re)constructing the wristwatch as a luxury object’, Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption, vol.1, no.2.

    Oakley, Peter (2014) ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies: issues in practice’, Making Futures, vol.3.

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Does Contemporary Craft Carry a Social Deficit? An analysis through comparison with related creative practices’, Making Futures, vol.1.

    Book Chapters

    Oakley, Peter (2015) ‘Introducing Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold: An attempt to reconfigure the social identity of a substance’, in: Adam Drazin and Susanne Kuechler (eds), The Social Life of Materials, London, New Dehli, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury 

    Oakley, Peter (2015) ‘A Permanent State of Decay: Contrived dereliction at heritage mining sites’, in: Hilary Orange (ed.), Reanimating Industrial Spaces, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press 

    Oakley, Peter (2014) 'Contrived Dereliction: Employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites', in: Mike Robinson et al (eds.) Cultural Heritage and Tourism Vol.2: Engagement and Experience. Taipei: Farterng Culture CO

    Oakley, Peter, and Küchler, Susanne (2013) ‘New Materials and their Impact on the Material World’, in: Penny Harvey, Eleanor Casella, Gillian Evans, Hannah Knox, Christine McLean, Elizabeth B. Silva, Nicholas Thoburn, Kath Woodward (eds), Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion, London: Routledge

    Oakley, Peter (2013) ‘Containing Precious Metals: the material consequences of hallmarking in modern and medieval England’, in: Hans Peter Hahn and Hadas Weis (eds), Mobility, Meaning and Transformations of Things: Shifting contexts of material culture through time and space, Oxford: Oxbow Books

    Oakley, Peter (2008) ‘Praxeological Subjectification: the hidden power of practical activities’, in: Kate Hatton (ed.), Design Pedagogy Research, Huddersfield: Jeremy Mills

    Published Conference Papers

    Oakley, Peter (2015) 'Digital Crafting: Re-evaluating Promises and Pitfalls' (English text with full translation into Korean). In: Making Futures Korea: Craft, meeting the new through changes in perception. Cheongju: Cheongju International Craft Biennale Committee.

    Oakley, Peter (2014) ‘Contrived Dereliction: employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites’, in: Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage Conference Papers (Taipei, April 5-9, 2013), University of Birmingham, National Taipei University of Education and National Taiwan University 

    Industry Publications

    Oakley, Peter (2012) ‘Reflections on Ethical Gold’, in: The Goldsmiths’ Company Technical Journal 2012

    Oakley, Peter (2011) ‘Ethical Highs and Lows in 2011’, in: Benchpeg Almanack 2011

    The Ethical Gold Series for Benchpeg:

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Introducing Ethical Gold’, in: Benchpeg 162, 9–15 May 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘So What’s Wrong with Gold Mining Anyway?’, in: Benchpeg 167, 13–19 June 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Industrial Mining and Anti-Mining Campaigns’, in Benchpeg 173, 25–31 July 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Why is ASM Different?’, in: Benchpeg 178, 29 August–4 September 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold', in: Benchpeg 187, 31 October–6 November 2010

    Conference, Workshop and Seminar Papers


    ‘Why so many Initiatives? Ethical Sourcing Initiatives in the Jewellery Industry’. Ethical Making for the 21st Century, convened by Edinburgh Assay Office and held at the University of Dundee, 7th February 2017.

    ‘Towards A Brighter Future: The risks and rewards of new ceramic print technology’, ISSSM 2017, Sapporo, Japan, 17th January 2017.


    ‘Representing Geevor: linear progress vs the singular moment in the presentation of mining heritage’. Mining Temporalities panel at 14th EASA Biennial Conference, Milan, Italy, 22nd July 2016

    ‘The Politics of Industry: negotiating economics and innovation within and across communities of practice’. Delivered at Anthropology in London 2016, convened by University College London, 14th June 2016.

    ‘Intelligent Making at the RCA’. Seminar delivered to the Arts Faculty, California State University Long Beach (CSULB), Los Angeles, California, US, 12 April 2016.

    'Playing Dead? Maintaining Neutrality in Collaborations with Ethical Campaigners', Anthropology Spring Seminar Series: Collaboration & the Contemporary Research Milieu, Goldsmiths, University of London, 3 February 2016.


    'Digital Crafting: Re-evaluating Promises and Pitfalls', Making Futures Korea, conference, part of the Cheongju International Craft Biennale, 9-10 October, 2015.

    'Digital Crafting: Defining the Field', Making Futures IV, conference, Plymouth College of Art, 24-25 September, 2015

    'Moralising Gold Supply Chains'. Winchester Luxury Research Group Seminar Series, Southampton University, 29 April 2015

    Origin Myths and Realities: unpacking the historic narratives of mining heritage sites, the first event in the Future Pasts/Present Futures seminar series at the Institute of Archaeology UCL, 12 January 2015


    ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies’ (keynote presentation), Making Futures: Beijing, part of Beijing Design Festival, Dashilar Hutong, Beijing, 28 September 2014

    ‘The Heart of Gold: manufacturing objects and material identities’, Anthropology in London, annual conference, London School of Economics and University College London, 24 June 2014


    ‘Gold Jewellery as Money: the covert social identity of a class of object’, Value and Equivalence,workshop, Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main, 30 November 2013

    ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies: issues in practice’, Making Futures 3, conference, Plymouth College of Art, 27 September 2013

    ‘Immanence vs. Provenance: Fairtrade Gold and the social complexity of substance identities’ (highlight presentation), First European Conference on the Social Sciences, IAFOR, Brighton, 6 July 2013

    'Contrived Dereliction: employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites', Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage conference, co-organised by University of Birmingham, National Taipei University of Education and National Taiwan University, and held in Taipei, 8 April 2013


    ‘The Rise and Fall of the Jewellery District in England’, TAG Annual Conference, University of Liverpool, 19 December 2012

    ‘Managing a Stream of Gold: the UK Assay Office in the 20th century’, SHAC Annual Meeting, held at the Science Museum, London, 8 December 2012

    ‘Agency and the XRF’, Anthropology in the World, conference, Royal Anthropological Institute, held at the British Museum, 9 June 2012


    ‘Containing Gold: institutional attempts to define and constrict the values of precious metal objects’, Itineraries of the Material, conference, Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main, 7 October 2011

    ‘Tested by Fire: the social impact of technological changes in assaying’, SHAC Workshop, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University, 21 September 2011

    ‘Mapping Ethical Gold: Material Classifications and their Material Consequences’, RGS and IBG Annual Conference, held at the Royal Geographic Society, 2 September 2011

    ‘A Trace of Gold: the Ambiguous Nature of Abandoned Gold Mines’, Anthropology in London, annual conference, Brunel University and University College London, 20 July 2011


    ‘A Mine of Information: presenting the social histories of heritage mining sites’, European Archaeological Association Annual Conference, held at The Hague, 3 September 2010

    ‘Making Indian Jewellery in the Southwest: interactions across material cultures’, Sainsbury Research Unit Seminar, University of East Anglia, 22 April 2010

    ‘The Trouble with Gold: assaying, hallmarking and governmentality’, RCA/V&A History of Design Research Seminars (Asian and Modern strands), held at the V&A, 18 February 2010


    ‘Does Contemporary Craft Carry a Social Deficit? An analysis through comparison with related creative practices’, Making Futures III conference, Plymouth College of Art. 18 September 2009.


    ‘The Motivations and Practice of Educational Enactors’, Selling or Telling? ATLAS Annual Conference, University of Brighton, 4 July 2008.

    ‘Educational Enactment at Heritage Sites: issues in practice’, Bringing History to Life tourism employers conference, Cornwall College, 21 February 2008.


    ‘1st Class images? Tourist postcards as potential records of indigenous craft practice’, Tourism & the Visual conference, University of Brighton, 14 June 2007.

    ‘Praxeological Subjectification: the Hidden Power of Practical Activities’, Design & Pedagogy conference, Leeds College of Art & Design, 16 March 2007.

    Panel Appearances


    Panel Moderator at FLUX 2017 at the Birmingham Assay Office, Birmingham, 25th-26th April 2017.


    Plenary Panel Member for Harnessing Extractive Industries for Development in sub-Saharan Africa workshop, Surrey Business School, University of Surrey, 9th-10th June 2016.

    Panel Member for ‘Ethical Issues and Initiatives’, at Flux: Fair Luxury at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, London, 19th April 2016.


    Speaker at the 'Magic of Materials', Salon Supper for RA Architecture Patrons, organised by Royal Academy of Arts and held at Burlington Gardens, London, 24 June 2015

    Panel Chair for Materials Reborn?, convened by the Arts Foundation as part of COLLECT 2015, held at the Saatchi Gallery, London, 10 May 2015

    Panel Member and moderator for Sustainable Material for the Common Good, a breakout session at the 4th Sustainable Luxury Forum, held in Geneva, 4–6 February 2015


    Panel Member for Cast, Conceive, Cut: Materials and Production, the second of three Architecture and Materials sessions organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 22 October 2014

    Panel Member for Crafting 2.0, part of Making Futures: Beijing (27–28 September 2014), an event at the 2014 Beijing Design Festival, 28 September 2014


    Panel Chair for keynote speakers panel. The conference, Towards A Progressive Arts Education (6–8 November 2013), was organised by UAL and held at the British Library, London, 7 November 2013

    Plenary Panel Member for Making Futures 3, (27–28 September 2013), a conference organised by Plymouth College of Art and held at the Mount Edgecombe Estate, Plymouth, 28 September 2013

    Panel Chair for contributors’ discussion at Materials Innovation. The event, part of the 2013 London Design Festival, was organised by the Arts Foundation and held at the V&A, London, 17 September 2013

    Panel Chair for Sustainable Luxury Innovation: dealing with a multi-dimensional terrain, a breakout session at the 3rd Sustainable Luxury Forum (18–19 June 2013) held in Geneva, 19 June 2013


    Panel Member for Advanced Manufacturing session, part of ASSEMBLE 2012, a one-day conference organized by the Crafts Council and held at RIBA, London, 20 September 2012

    Panel Chair for Ethics and Sustainability: 2011-2012 and Beyond, part of the Benchpeg seminar series held at International Jewellery London (IJL) in Earl’s Court 2, 2 September 2012

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  • Awards and Grants

  • Pressed Aluminium Innovations Pilot Project
    Role: Principal Investigator
    Funder: RCA Research Development Fund
    Funding to scope the potential of crossovers between studio silversmithing & industrial press-forming processes.

    Extending the Potential of the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface
    Role: Co-Investigator
    Funder: Arts & Humanities Research Council
    An exploration of the commercial potential of digital printing for decorating high-value ceramics, including identifying social & technical barriers to adoption.

    ArcInTex European Training Network
    Role: RCA Participant Contact
    Funder: European Commission through H2020-MSCA-ITN.
    The ArcInTex consortium is supporting 15 PhD students researching intersections between textiles, interactive design & architecture.

    Materialising Time
    Role: sole researcher
    Funder: RCA Research Development Fund
    Field research in Geneva to support an analysis of the development of the wristwatch as a luxury good.

    Contrived Dereliction
    Role: Sole Researcher
    Funder: RCA Research Development Fund
    Utilising fieldwork at mining heritage sites in North America and Europe, the project developed the concept of ‘contrived dereliction’ as a presentation strategy.

Selected work


Research interests

Dr Oakley's research covers materials, manufacturing and luxury goods. Key themes he is currently focusing on within this overall topic are:

  • The social identities of luxury goods.
  • Ethical material sourcing initiatives.
  • Traditional crafts and craftsmanship.
  • Crafting with digital technologies.
  • Manufacturing and mining sites as heritage

Current and recent research

Extending the Potential of the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface

ArcInTex European Training Network

Digital Crafting
This research theme covers the practices and perceptions of makers utilising digital manufacturing technologies within creative practices typically thought of as craft disciplines. It engages with the key issues of how these practitioners develop the necessary skillsets, understand their own professional identities and manage their relationships with audiences, including clients, commentators and other craft makers. It also examines the extent to which digital crafting practitioners conceive of themselves and their activities in terms of a distinct, stand-alone group and how far they retain allegiance to their original disciplinary community of practice.

Luxury Craftsmanship
An examination of the role of craftsmanship in the production of a range of luxury goods and the ways this contributes to their identity, allure and perceived value. The project reflects on the extent to which craftsmanship as an ideal has become embedded in the activities and institutional structures of luxury producers, where it has been foregrounded in promotional campaigns as part of the heritage of specific luxury brands and the extent to which this feeds back into the manufacturing process itself.

Ethical Gold
This research topic focuses on the creation and development of the concept of ‘ethical gold’ and its impact on the jewellery trade and its supply chains through certification regimes managed by NGOs, industry bodies and other associations and organisations.

The project has involved a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in the UK jewellery sector. This included attending ‘ethical gold’ promotional events, private industry meetings and jewellery trade shows and undertaking participant-observation amongst jewellery manufacturers and retailers, gold refiners and precious metal scrap merchants.

Materialising Time
This project examines the development, current status and future of the wristwatch as a luxury good. Work to date has focused on contemporary events and two specific moments in the history of the wristwatch and their enduring impact. Firstly, the development of the first industrially produced wristwatches, intended for use as military equipment. Secondly, the mechanical wristwatch's revitalization as a luxury good in response to the threat of quartz timekeeping technology. Research undertaken for the project has included fieldwork in luxury retail establishments in the UK, specialist trade shows in the UK and Germany and watch manufacturers, retail sites and museums in Switzerland.

Contrived Dereliction
Utilising the findings from fieldwork conducted at mining heritage sites in North America and Europe, this project developed the concept of ‘contrived dereliction’ as a heritage site presentation strategy and its implications for site stewards and managers. The case studies analysed during the project also demonstrated how specific heritage narratives directly influence the ways individual physical objects and assemblages are perceived, valued and presented.  


Research students